Grand jury blasts Standish/Litchfield Fire Protection District board

Last month Lassen County District Attorney Susan Rios issued a blistering 23-page Investigation Report about the conduct of the Standish-Litchfield Fire Protection District — a small, rural volunteer district established in 1951.

According to Rios, the current board “is completely devoid of the ability to accept responsibility, learn from past mistakes or heed the advice of watchdog entities such as the grand jury and has no interest in doing so.”

Rios recommended the Lassen Local Area Formation Committee “re-evaluate the services provided by the Standish-Litchfield Fire Protection District and determine if a merger of consolidation with a nearby district would be appropriate.”

The 2019-2020 Lassen County Grand Jury Report also criticizes the fire-protection district.

According to the report, the grand jury duty is to “examine and investigate county government and special district functions and make recommendations to improve their procedures and methods of operation to promote honest, effective government for the best interests of the people.”

The grand jury undertook a “thorough and comprehensive investigation” of the SLFPD after receiving a complaint alleging “willful misconduct, misuse of public funds, open meeting violations” and possible HIPPA violations.

Noting the district is governed by “an extensive list of laws, regulations and training requirements,” the grand jury opined, “Without clear institutional memory, an understanding of regulatory requirements and effective leadership, inevitably a board of directors will by dysfunctional and ultimately a liability to the district. The grand jury investigation of the SLFPD revealed just that.”

According to the grand jury the district has a paid secretary, a fire chief and fewer than five volunteers.

While the grand jury found the board had completed an annual audit as required by law, it found the SLFPD was not compliant in a number of areas including: The oath of allegiance for public officers; a roster of public agencies filing; ethics training; sexual harassment training; reimbursement policy; an Enterprise System Catalog; its website; the Brown Act, California’s Open Meeting Law; board member and employee reimbursement disclosure; conflict of interest contracting and bidding; Fair Political Practices; gift of public funds; incompatibility of office doctrine; the Public Records Act; surplus real property; the Uniform District Election Law; board vacancies; and OSHA training and safety standards.

The grand jury wrote, “Considering the extent of consistent willful misconduct by the SLFPD Board of Directors and the immense risk to the district they represent, the only reasonable recommendation(s) the GJ can recommend (are) as follows:

  • The entire SLFPD Board of Directors be removed from office for nothing less than egregious misconduct;
  • The Lassen County Board of Supervisors assume the role of the SLFPD Board of Directors;
  • The Lassen County Board of Supervisors direct staff to determine and present consolidation options/strategies;
  • The Lassen County Board of Directors initiate a resolution to consolidation and request consolidation between (the) SLFPD and an adjacent district;
  • The Lassen County Board of Supervisors direct the county auditor to fully and completely review and audit all accounts and financial activities of the SLFPD and report the findings; and,
  • The Lassen County Board of Directors, acting as the SLFPD Board of Directors, cure and correct past actions/violations of the SLFPD board.”

The grand jury requires responses from the SLFPD Board of Directors and the Lassen County Board of Supervisors.

The grand jury invited a response from LAFCo, and invited a response to consolidation only by the Susan River Fire Protection District ad the Janesville Fire Protection District.